RV Life-Cycle and RV Lifespan

There are numerous variables that factor into RV lifespan, that I will address later, but first let’s look at some RV buying traits and buying progression, which I refer to as the RV life-cycle.

RV Life-Cycle

Typically, the first time RV buyer starts with an inexpensive RV. There can be several reasons for this: It might be they are young buyers, and the buying decision is based on their budget, or it could be the buyer doesn’t want to purchase a larger tow vehicle, or the buyer could simply be testing the waters to see if they enjoy the RV lifestyle.

Regardless of the reason, it has been my experience that after purchasing and using the RV they soon realize it is too small for their wants and needs. At this point they still don’t know a lot about RVs except that they want something a little bigger. So, they make the decision to upgrade to what I refer to as an entry-level travel trailer.

Note: I like to use car models to explain this. You can buy a Chevy, a Buick, or a Cadillac. There is nothing wrong with a Chevy, but if you buy a Chevy don’t expect to get a Cadillac.

This natural progression usually takes place in the first three years of RV ownership, and sometimes sooner. At this point the RV buyer starts to learn more about RVs in general, through using their RV, doing more research, and talking to other RV owners. Now, as the family grows, and being a more informed buyer (with more discretionary income), they want to upgrade again, to an RV that is equipped to really suit their needs. This might be upgrading from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel trailer, or from a Type C motorhome to a Type A motorhome. Regardless of the circumstances it is almost always a more expensive and better equipped RV. If it is a towable RV, it typically includes a larger, more expensive tow vehicle too.

Eventually the children get older and may lose interest in camping with mom and dad. The now advanced and seasoned RV buyer wants an RV that is more suitable for a couple to travel in as opposed to a family. They might be retired at this point and have more time to travel and enjoy the RV lifestyle. This is when they upgrade to a new 5th wheel trailer or more expensive Type A motorhome. Others in the same situation might decide to downsize to a Type B motorhome that is smaller and easier to maneuver. In either case they are upgrading again and possibly for the last time in the RV buying life-cycle. During each buying stage they learn more and purchase more advanced RV products for enjoying, using, maintaining, and protecting their investment.

Here is a quick synopsis of each stage, as it pertains to RV products:

Stage 1 – First-time RV buyer

Buying the RV: First-time RV buyers typically buy on a budget. They start with a pop-up or small travel trailer. They spend money on the proper hitch components necessary to safely tow the trailer.

RV Education: The new RV owner is concerned about learning how to use the RV properly and safely. This is where our RV online training program comes in. They can learn about the specific type of RV they purchase, or they can purchase a bundle set that includes learning about other RV topics as well. New RV owners are also intimidated by the thought of towing or driving the new RV and may want to purchase our towing or driving RV training course. Our video training courses educate the new RV owner on how to use the RV and what to expect the first time they take the RV camping.

Outfitting your first RV: The RV dealer usually gifts the new RV buyer with what is referred to as an RV starter kit. The starter kit typically includes basic supplies like a short RV drinking water hose, a short RV sewer hose, holding tank treatment and other very basic RV products. The new RV owner soon realizes the RV starter kit does not suffice when they go camping for the first time. As they learn the basics about setting the RV up at the campground they purchase more RV products, like a longer and better-quality RV drinking water hose, various lengths and more durable RV sewer hoses, RV electrical adapters and an RV extension cord, leveling blocks, and more RV holding tank treatment products.

RV 101® – Tip: Setting an RV up the first few times can be confusing. We offer an e-book full of RV checklists the new owner can use so nothing is forgotten or overlooked.

After the new owners have a few camping trips under their belt they want to accessorize the RV. They purchase products like camping chairs, a patio mat, outdoor lights for the awning, and step covers to help keep from tracking dirt inside the RV.

RV Cleaning & Maintenance: As the first-time buyer learns more about their RV, they begin to understand the need to keep the RV clean and properly maintained. Typical cleaning supplies include products like a wash brush with an extended handle, wash soap & wax products, black streak remover, bug remover products, and RV roof cleaning products.

Winterizing & Storing the RV: Depending on where the RV owner resides it is necessary to winterize the RV to protect the RV plumbing system. Some RV owners pay for this service, while others do it themselves. The DIY RVer can purchase our RV Winterizing & Storing video training or E-book course, so nothing is overlooked or forgotten. Products they typically need to winterize and store the RV include: 2 or 3-gallons of RV antifreeze, a tank cleaning wand if the RV doesn’t have a built-in black tank flush, a good tire gauge, a portable air compressor, a 3-stage battery charger, a water heater tank rinse wand, leveling blocks to store tires on, an RV cover if the RV is stored outside, tire covers if stored outside, moisture absorber and pest repellent products and If equipped with an onboard generator an oil change and filter.

Stage 2 – Advanced RV buyer

Advanced RV buyers are more aware of what is involved with RV ownership and maintenance and will usually purchase products from our RV Online Training Program like our Deep Cycle Battery e-book course, and our RV Care & Maintenance e-book course.

In addition to the RV products they purchased as a first-time RV buyer, the advanced RV buyer wants products that make RVing easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few of those items:

When they upgrade to a new and larger travel trailer or 5th wheel trailer, they need a larger truck to safely tow it. This also requires new hitch components. If they purchase a motorhome and plan to tow a small vehicle behind it, they need a tow bar and base plate for the tow vehicle. At the same time, they typically invest in better-quality heavy-duty sewer hose kits, RV sewer hose adapters and fittings, and products like an RV sewer hose support. And from experience they see the need for more than one RV drinking water hose so they can always reach the potable water supply, and a separate garden hose for maintenance and cleaning.

Something else experience teaches them is the need for an RV extension cord that is compatible with their RV electrical system and an assortment of electrical adapters. To protect the RV’s electrical system, they purchased a surge guard product. The advanced RV buyer usually has a good variety of leveling blocks and wheel chocks, and a water filtration system, along with water pressure regulators. These buyers understand the need for a good roadside emergency plan in the event of a breakdown, flat tire, or misplaced keys. For entertainment they purchase a satellite system, for tire safety they purchase a tire pressure monitoring system, and for comfort it’s not uncommon to upgrade the mattress that came in the RV. And they accessorize with upgraded camping chairs, a portable BBQ grill, and LED patio lights. If it’s a motorized RV they install products to help it handle and drive better like a steering stabilizer and upgraded anti-sway bars. The list goes on and on.

Here is a short list of consumable products RV owner’s purchase:

  • RV toilet paper
  • Holding tank treatments
  • Replacement water filters
  • RV antifreeze
  • Tires
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Disposal gloves
  • Anode rod for suburban water heaters
  • RV deep-cycle battery(s)
  • Roof sealant products
  • RV cleaning products
  • Air conditioner filters
  • drinking water hoses
  • sewer hoses

The RV Lifespan

What do I mean by RV lifespan? I mean how long you can expect to own and use an RV before the value or use-ability is zero. I mentioned earlier there are numerous variables that factor into the lifespan of an RV. For example, you need to consider the RV’s construction, the quality, how well it is maintained, how it is stored, and how it is used, just to mention a few.

RV Construction:

We’ll start with construction. Earlier I mentioned a comparison between RVs and car models. If you purchase a Cadillac, you expect better construction techniques, better products, and more bells and whistles than you would if you purchased a Chevrolet. The same applies to RVs. I refer to this as entry level vs. mid-line vs. high-end RVs. You know the old saying; you get what you pay for. But it’s also important to understand that RV consumers have different tastes, different likes and different budgets. This is why RV manufacturers build so many different models at varying price points.

One of today’s leading construction issues is water damage. It predominantly originates in the RV roof, but water damage can be found elsewhere on RVs too. Let’s compare this to the construction of Airstream travel trailers. How many 50-year-old travel trailers do you see with little to no water damage? Not many! This is why Airstream has a cult-like following. But look at the price of a new Airstream too. What is important to understand here is, to research the construction and warranty of the RV you intend to purchase. Aluminum frame construction is better than wood frame construction. A fiberglass exterior is better than a corrugated aluminum exterior etc., etc., etc.

RV Quality:

What I find interesting is years ago RV manufacturing companies were started by people who had a desire to build a quality and dependable RV. It was their name and reputation on the line. That used to mean something, it was important. When you heard the name of a particular RV manufacturer or a particular brand of RV you automatically knew it had a reputation for quality. When one family member retired another family member stepped in and continued the proud tradition of manufacturing quality RVs. It was not uncommon to see second or third generations running the business. This tradition ran far and wide in the RV industry. Back in the day, if an RV manufacturer put out an inferior product they didn’t last long. All was well in the RV industry.

Fast forward to today and unfortunately the good old days are over. During the economic downturn in 2008 RV companies were in trouble. Workers were laid off and large RV manufacturing facilities sat empty. Some of the larger, more profitable, and well-funded RV businesses started purchasing smaller RV manufacturers who were experiencing financial instability; much the same way well known RV dealerships were being consolidated by Camping World. Investment companies bought RV manufacturers, while others folded completely. The individual pride of ownership and personal reputation for quality suffers. When companies are transferred from original owners and sold to private equity firms’ things like quality can take a turn for the worse.

Another factor I think can be attributed to this is lots of RV consumers not wanting to pay the price for quality. Some people view RV ownership as a part time recreational asset, and they shop for the best price rather than the best quality. In this scenario I think it’s important not to mistake RV quality with an entry-level RV unit. Ultimately, as I said earlier, you get what you pay for.

RV Maintenance:

Just like your automobile requires preventive and routine maintenance, so does your RV, regardless if it is towable or motorized RV. At the time I wrote this our motorhome is nearly 20 years old. We do not need a new RV because ours is well-maintained and stays stored in my shop when we aren’t using it. We get compliments on its condition all the time. If you compare this to a poorly maintained RV, it is doubtful that after 20 years of use you would still be using it. If you are not maintenance oriented, you need to have a dealer or other RV maintenance facility perform preventive and routine maintenance on it for you. If you do not, I can guarantee it will not last 20 years.

RV Storage:

We are very fortunate to have my shop to store our RV in. RVs exposed to the elements age quicker and experience more maintenance related issues. Prior to having my shop, I stored the RV outdoors, but I also took as many precautions as possible to safeguard it. I parked it beside an old building we had. I always put blocking under the tires, I covered the tires and avoided any tall grass and parking it under any trees. Perhaps the best thing I did was kept it covered (with a quality RV cover) when it was stored outdoors. I also inspected it more frequently for indications of water damage, insect, and rodent intrusion. The moral here is, regardless of where you store the RV take whatever precautions are necessary to protect and maintain the condition of the RV.

RV Usage:

Our motorhome has about 100,000 miles of use. That is significant mileage for an automobile, not to mention a motorhome. When you drive or tow an RV down the highway it is subject to shaking, and vibration that can result in damage to the RV. I am referring not only to seams and sealants, but also to wear and tear on the engine, suspension, and other components. This is where and why preventive and routine maintenance are so important. Identifying a problem early (preventive maintenance) and correcting it can save time and of course money. And oil changes, tire rotations, and inspections (routine maintenance) contribute to the longevity of the RV.

If you boil it all down the RV life-cycle and lifespan, come down to how well you care for and maintain your RV. If you compare this to RV lead-acid battery maintenance some individuals replace batteries every one to two years, whereas others easily get six to seven years of battery use because of care and maintenance.

Mark J. Polk

RV Online Training

RV 101® Travel Trailer Ultimate Video & E-book Bundle

RV 101® 5th Wheel Ultimate Video & E-book Bundle

RV 101® Motorhome Ultimate Video & E-book Bundle

Travel Trailer & 5th Wheel Trailer RV Orientation Video Training Course

Tow Your Travel Trailer Like a Pro Video Training Course

Tow Your 5th Wheel Like a Pro Complete Online Video Training Course

Motorhome RV Orientation Video Training Course

Drive Your Motorhome Like A Pro Complete Online Video Training Course

RV Care & Preventive Maintenance RV DIY® Online Video Training

RV Essential Items Video Training Course

Winterizing and Storing Your RV Video Training Course

Travel Trailer 4 Video Bargain Set Plus Free RV Checklist ebook

5th Wheel 4 Video Bargain Set Plus Free RV Checklist ebook

Motorhome 4 Video Bargain Set Plus Free RV Checklist ebook

A Collection of RV Education 101 E-Books – 9 RV E-BOOK BUNDLE SET

An Introduction to RVs E-book Training Course

Insider’s Guide to Buying an RV E-Book Training Course

Owning & Operating an RV E-Book Training Course

The Original Checklists for RVers E-Book Training Course

RV Campground Basics E-Book Training Course

RV Safety Features, Tips & Tricks E-book Training Course

RV Care & Maintenance E-Book Training Course

Winterizing & Storing Your RV E-Book Training Course

RV Battery Care & Maintenance E-Book Training Course

Trailer Towing Basics E-Book Training Course

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